Once upon a time, before the National Do-Not-Call regulations and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 USC 227 and 47 CFR 64.1200, business were free to “cold call” consumers to introduce them to new products and services. Those days are long past, and more importantly, cold calling landline or mobile numbers on even your old leads can create tremendous liability for you and your company. Despite these regulations, I still find myself frequently the recipient of such cold calls regarding a mortgage, and when queried, the callers often have never even heard of TCPA. It’s mind boggling! Understanding these regulations are critical for anyone in business given the rash of Federal Class action lawsuits against corporations from professional litigants looking to extort your company.
Background on the TCPA
The TCPA and its implementing rules impose limitations on calls placed to both residential and wireless telephone numbers. The TCPA prohibits telemarketing calls made using an artificial or pre-recorded voice to residential phones, without prior express consent. The TCPA also prohibits making non-emergency calls using an automated telephone dialing system or artificial or pre-recorded voice to a wireless telephone number without prior express consent. If the call to the wireless number includes an advertisement or is considered telemarketing, the express consent must be in writing. Failure to comply with these rules results in automatic penalties ranging from $500 up to $1,500 per unsolicited call placed if you disregard TCPA compliance. Unlike DNC penalties, this is not a fine for the calls you made to the specific complainant, but rather EVERY call you made to anyone’s mobile number since TCPA was updated in Oct of 2013, if the Class is certified in litigation. Even if compliant, the costs of defense are enormous and litigants often file these as a way to extort $50,000 or more from companies, as judgments can be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and take years in court. Calling under the pretext of a “survey” to generate a sales opportunity is also prohibited. TCPA includes uninvited text messages.
On July 17, 2015, the FCC issued new rules regarding TCPA in an attempt to clarify this area of law. While the new rule results in a number of changes to the TCPA, none is more significant than the broadening of the definition of an “automated telephone dialing system” (ATDS). In simplest terms, the FCC now defines an ATDS as any equipment that is actually or potentially able to dial random or sequential numbers – even if not actually used that way, and even if it must be altered in order to be capable of doing so. In essence, your iPhone can be considered an automated dialer in certain circumstances. Given the fact the US economy relies on consumer spending for 70% of total GDP, these laws are not only stifling our economy in my view, but placing undue burdens on legitimate businesses. Bottom feeding lawyers and professional litigants are clogging up the courts with these cases due to the extremely high value of potential judgments.
Unfortunately for those of us in email advertising, trying to work with top-tier performance email publishers is like trying to find a wife in Alaska. There are so many of us and so few of them, and they know it. So what happens? Only the most attractive offers survive. Those are the offers with no caps on traffic, no schedule restrictions, higher payouts, etc. If you won’t give it to them, they are on to the next offer, and very few offers can take uncapped traffic at a high payout with zero restrictions.
In an article titled “How to Negotiate with Powerful Suppliers” from the Harvard Business Review Magazine, this kind of difficulty in getting publishers to work with your needs is due to the fact that the good ones are scarce. There are only a handful of top-tier quality email publishers that can really drive traffic at scale at any given time. Therefore, their services are in high demand and they gravitate to the offers that make them the most money with the fewest headaches.
So then, as advertisers, are we totally powerless? No. Luckily this article is titled, “How to Negotiate with Powerful Suppliers.” We have four options:
- Consider playing hardball. Good luck with #1. Remember, these publishers have buyers lined up, and there is no leverage in trying to withhold your business. That just won’t work.
- Acquire an existing supplier or create a new one. That sounds great, but the hard part is that email publishers come and go. There are many stories in this industry of large purchases being made only to have the mailer’s IPs go down the next day. Creating one is probably a better idea, but no simple task. Hiring an expert to create one may be just as expensive and just as risky.
- Consider whether you can change how you buy. You could consider changing how you buy, but in our industry, you probably have already done this. Other forms of media, such as Search and Social, can produce great traffic. But most advertisers look to email traffic only after saturating other opportunities.
- See if you can help the publisher realize value in other contexts. Bingo! This is the strategy that has been extremely successful for me. If I have an offer that is limited because of restrictions on the amount of traffic it can take, days it can be run, etc., I know that the best way to overcome that is to build ancillary value for the publisher into the offer. This can mean different things in different situations, but an example may be to test creative extensively until the conversion ratios from the open of the email through the acquiring of the customer are at a level much higher than existing offers. With that accomplished, the offer will make the publishers more money per email drop, and they will be much more willing to adhere to my requests on volume on scheduling. Another example would be to test CPM mailings. This may take a good deal of trial and error, but the top mailers will usually be willing to mail any offer on a CPM basis because they are guaranteed to meet their revenue targets. As a result, the advertiser has control over the size and timing of the email drops.
It’s amazing how people disregard any leads that aren’t brand-spanking new. If treated right, they can lead to significant customer acquisition. But you can’t skip a single beat. Back to my favorite saying: It’s not the leads, it’s you. But don’t despair, follow this step-by-step guide for major results. It includes both email newsletter and calling (with my favorite strategy), because remember – email for show, dial for dough! Both are crucial components.
Working aged leads: trickle email marketing. Consumers will come to you in various stages of the buying cycle. Some will have noticed a few bullet points on an advertisement and want to learn more but are not in a position to move forward, while others will have done their research and be ready to transact.
- I like Constant Contact for these campaigns.
- Only email to leads you purchased or generated. Review the CAN-SPAM act of 2003. Avoid spam complaints at all costs by following the FTC’s guide on the CAN-SPAM act.
- Never give sales people authority to send bulk emails, or you will become the biggest SPAMMER on the web! Have a dedicated admin manage all campaigns.
- Ideal email creative would be stories on how a reverse mortgage changed a borrower’s life. Think real testimonial stories, educational material, articles.
- Frequency: weekly or bi-weekly. Goal is to not be identified as SPAM, and over-delivery is a common error.
- Be consistently in front of the prospect, so when they decide it’s the right time, you are the lender who earns their business. You will generate business from leads that are even years old over time.
When giving advice to sales people who are looking to improve (or are trying to blame the leads), I always first make it very clear that it’s not the leads, it’s you. After starting our strategy with an overview of the importance of sales culture and contact time – let’s dig into the ever-important realm of business communication when working leads.
Sell yourself and your company. Start with a warm and enthusiastic greeting, as it is important to get the consumer engaged in the process and build rapport. Be sure to articulate why you are better to work with and why your company is better to work with… How the experience you or your company provides is different than other companies they may be speaking with… Why your process is easier on the borrower. Think about these things, and differentiate yourself. Be the product expert.
The biggest problem most sales people have is that we like to listen to ourselves talk. I know I’m guilty of this sometimes. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so ask open-ended questions about the things a borrower would use the funds for, their bucket list, their needs, and their dreams. Your job is to discover the problem(s) they may or may not realize they have, and to demonstrate how a reverse mortgage can not only solve that problem, but benefit their retirement over time by providing a better quality of life. They will tell you how to close them if you pose the right questions. Qualify, qualify qualify!
These are my basic steps to the sale:
- Develop a relationship.
- Sell yourself, sell your company
- Analyze the needs of the client.
- Educate the client on the product, and use real world stories of how the product was used to buy a business, pay expenses, retire early, travel the world, buy a second vacation home and so on, tailored to each client’s goals.
- Identify and provide a solution to solve the borrower’s specific need
- Earn the borrower’s trust and business by being the “expert,” credible, and compassionate.
- Gain commitment.
- Ask for a referral.
Leaving an effective voicemail. This is an often overlooked, but critical part of the follow-up process. Have a plan or script for this as you often won’t reach a borrower on the first call. Think about how you check your own voicemail. I know I quickly check mine without listening to the entire message. We are all busy. If it sounds like a sales call from someone I don’t know… I delete it before I listen to the whole thing. And so do you. So engage the consumer and leave a positive first impression that relays that you are following up on their request. It’s important when leaving an enthusiastic voicemail to say something like this: (more…)
Now that we’ve been reminded that it’s not the leads, it’s you, we can start to form a strategy from the ground up. Let’s dig into sales culture and contact time first – it’s impossible to cut corners in these areas and still achieve the amount of success you should be striving for. In fact, and you might cringe here, we’re going to talk about working weekends, too. Then we’ll move on to the ever-important communication.
Sales Culture. The first thing a company should review before they buy Internet leads is their sales culture. If you historically generate mostly inbound calls to your sales team, getting them to make outbound dials on Internet leads may prove to be a problem, and working them has different challenges as well. With an inbound call sales culture, many sales people would much rather sit around and wait for the phone to ring then make many outbound dials all day. Working Internet leads takes commitment and significant effort, supported by a great sales process. The deals are in there – the question is, can you earn them?
If inbound calls are your current sales culture, the first thing you need to decide is how you hold your sales people accountable for hitting certain metrics working Internet leads. You should track outbound dials per day, contact rate, total talk time, quotes given, applications taken, loans funded, plus whatever other milestones your company utilizes. I like to start new salespeople working Internet leads only, starting with aged leads, and then quickly providing them with real-time leads once they demonstrate command of the material. Over time I allow them to “graduate” to the inbound phone queue as a reward for good performance working the Internet leads, as calls are expensive, yet not necessarily more effective. Provide your sales team with a script and training for both fresh leads and aged leads, as they need to be approached differently at initial contact. I hold all sales people accountable and ensure their conversion metrics on Internet leads meet their objectives before I allow them to receive the “easier” inbound calls.
Contact Time. Contact time on Internet leads is critical. You want to reach out to the consumer ideally while they are still online and on the form they submitted. At that point, they are actively thinking about a Reverse Mortgage (we call it real-time), rather than hours later when they have mentally moved on to something else. The goal should be to make that first call and send the introductory email within 5 minutes of receiving a lead. Work in sequential priority, and a fresh lead tops the list. Remember, the Internet provides people with immediate gratification… so you should, too! If you do so, you will see much better contact rates, and on shared leads, which are typically sold up to 5 times (we only sell exclusive leads), you will have the opportunity to take the borrower “off the market” before your competitor calls.
I’m frankly surprised that so few companies want leads delivered in real-time on weekends. If you have a smart phone that can receive email, you can reach out to a new prospect who is likely home and available to take your call when they submit the lead. Even sending an email to schedule a Monday morning follow-up call is better than letting your leads sit uncontacted until Monday. Why give the time to let the borrower do more shopping while they wait to hear back from you? Think about working leads on weekends, as it’s an untapped opportunity to improve your contact rate and originate more loans.
When I first started generating and selling Internet leads in 1995, training sales teams to work them had an extra challenge we don’t have now: First we had to explain what the Internet was and then sell them a computer so they could work the leads! These days, our firm generates and delivers more than 10,000 exclusive reverse mortgage leads per month to a lender you may be working for or with.
Since the ’90s, most people have used the Web to research products, review them and ultimately make a buying decision based on what they’ve read and learned. The Web is a double-edged sword in this regard, as there is as much misinformation as good information out there on reverse mortgages.
The most important thing I’ve come to understand as a lead generator is that a reverse mortgage is not a commodity product that everyone understands. There are many misperceptions from consumers caused by the word “reverse.” Few people realize that it’s really just a traditional mortgage, but with more payment options and flexibility, as it can “pay” you (thus the “reverse”). How many other loans allow you to choose when and how you pay it back, or not pay it back at all, during your lifetime? I often hear that it’s expensive, and my response is, “Expensive compared with what other loan you don’t have to effectively pay back during your lifetime?”
I fully believe in reverse mortgages and the incredible financial options they offer retirees, and it excites me to introduce so many consumers to this product. Using the proceeds of a reverse mortgage just to defer Social Security until 70 can increase a borrower’s benefits by 76 percent and prevent a borrower from draining their investments, which are also earning a return. Proceeds can be used to start a second career, buy a dream vacation home, downsize through a HECM for Purchase or simply help pay for the golden years. As a salesperson, it’s important to understand that your prospects may have applied for a quote after reading only a few bullet points highlighting the benefits of a reverse mortgage, so they probably need a lot more education and a greater comfort level to make them ready to buy. Although I will cover “how to work leads” in another article, today I want to focus on why leads work and how to choose a lead company.